Tahrif and the Torah

Early Muslim Writers and Polemicists on the authenticity of the Hebrew Scriptures

Sam Shamoun


As readers of our site know, it has been one of our specific aims to refute the charge that the Holy Bible has been corrupted to such an extent that its message no longer reflects the original teachings of the prophets and of the Lord Jesus Christ. One way we have sought to demonstrate this is by refuting the oft-repeated Muslim claim that the Quran and the earliest records of Islam teach that the Holy Scriptures have been changed.

Our analysis of both the Quran and the earliest records of Islam have shown that the first Muslims believed that the previous scriptures remained in a uncorrupt form and were available during the time of Muhammad’s advent.[1]

Please read the following articles for the evidence:


In this paper we turn our attention to the writings of the first Muslim apologists and polemicists so as to ascertain their views of the Holy Scriptures. More specifically, we look to the views of the earliest Muslim polemicists regarding the Hebrew Scriptures to see whether they believed that the previous scriptures remained intact.

The following citations are taken from Camilla Adang’s book, Muslim Writers on Judaism & the Hebrew Bible from Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm. It is published by E. J. Brill Leiden 1996 (Brill Academic Publishers 1997), ISBN: 9004100342.[2]

Adang focuses her attention on the following Muslim authors, specifically the last nine:

  1. Abu’l-Rabi‘ b. al-Layth (c. 8th century A.D.).
  2. ‘Ali b. Rabban al-Tabari (b. 810 A.D.).
  3. Abu Muhammad ‘Abd Allah b. Muslim b. Qutayba (b. 828 A.D.).
  4. Ahmad b. Abi Ya‘qub b. Ja‘far b. Wahb b. Wadih al-‘Abbasi (b. first quarter of the 9th century A.D.).
  5. Abu Ja‘far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari (b. 839 A.D.).
  6. Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali b. al-Husayn al-Mas‘udi (b. 893 A.D.).
  7. Abu Bakr Muhammad b. al-Tayyib b. Ja‘far b. Muhammad b. al-Qasim (ibn) al-Baqillani (b. 950)
  8. Abu Nasr Mutahhar b. Tahir al-Maqdisi.
  9. Abu’l-Rayhan Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Biruni (b. 973 A.D.).
  10. Abu Muhammad ‘Ali b. Ahmad b. Hazm (b. 994 A.D.).

The first 7 writers were of the opinion that the Hebrew Scriptures remained intact, with the last 3 claiming that textual corruption had taken place. Ibn Hazm was the most vociferous of those who held that the text of the Hebrew Bible was corrupted.

It will be our aim here to specifically focus on the views of the first 7 Muslims. We do this to demonstrate that the first Muslims did not hold to the position that the previous books, specifically the books of the Hebrew Bible, were corrupted to such an extent that its message was unreliable, no longer accurately reflecting the original message of the OT prophets.

Ibn al-Layth

... In the epistle of Ibn al-Layth, on the other hand, tahrif is clearly interpreted as a distortion of their sense: whoever looks in the books of the prophets will find Muhammad mentioned, but the People of the book have obscured these references by changing their interpretation. Ibn al-Layth categorically denies the possibility of passages having been added to, or omitted from, the scriptures, and professes his belief - and Caliph Harun’s - in the authenticity of these scriptures. This point of view seems to be shared by Ibn Rabban. (p. 224)

Ibn Rabban

... The accusation of deliberate distortion of the Torah, which we find for example in the works of Ibn Hazm, is nowhere voiced in Kitab al-din a’l-dawla ... he refers to a distortion of the interpretation of the scriptures and not of the text itself ... However, Ibn Rabban could ill afford to reject the Torah as a forgery, for this would deprive him of the main proof he adduces for Muhammad’s veracity; the frequent occurrence of his name and description in the Jewish - and Christian - scriptures. To a large extent, the same goes for Ibn Qutayba’s Dala’il al-nubuwwa. (p. 225)

Ibn Qutayba

... Ibn Qutayba used the Torah not only as a book in which the advent of the Prophet is foretold, but also as a historical source ...

... It is clear that what is meant by tahrif is giving a wrong interpretation to an otherwise genuine text. Ibn Qutayba does not question the authenticity or validity of the Jewish scriptures, and nowhere does he accuse the Jews of having distorted them.

Admittedly, he states in his Ma‘arif that the Torah was burned at one point, but he immediately adds that Ezra reinstated it after the Jews had returned to Syria ...

The statement about the restoration of the Lost Torah probably goes back indirectly to the apocryphal IV Ezra with which, as we have seen in Chapter Four, Ibn Qutayba was acquainted in one form or another. We see the motif of Ezra as the inspired restorer of the holy scriptures recurring in the works of other historians, among them al-Tabari. (pp. 225-226; underlined emphasis ours)


As in the cases of Ibn Rabban and Ibn Qutayba, tahrif does not seem to have been an issue for al-Ya‘qubi...

... Most important, however, is the fact that like Ibn Qutayba al-Ya‘qubi sees no reason not to accept evidence from the Torah. (pp. 226, 227)


... A study of his explanation of the verses in which the accusation of tahrif occurs, as well as those in which similar allegations are leveled at the Jews, allows us to summarize his views on the issue as follows:

... When Moses ordered the Israelites to express their repentance, they used a phrase other than the one they had been told to use: instead of hitta - which according to Goldziher may be derived from the Hebrew hata’nu, we have sinned - they said hinta. The distortion that was effected here was an oral one, and al-Tabari does not link it with the written text of God’s word. The same applies in the case of the seventy elders who accompanied Moses to Mount Sinai and were allowed to hear God’s speech. Once they returned to their people, some of them gave a false report of what they heard, distorting God’s spoken words, but not the written Torah, as is explicitly stated by al-Tabari. (pp. 227-228; underlined emphasis ours)

The rabbis are admonished in the Koran not to hide their knowledge in their desire for power and worldly gain. Yet some of them write a book according to their own interpretations alongside the Torah, and twist their tongues, so that the Muslims might think that what they misrepresent is from the book of God and part of His revelation, while in actual fact, God never revealed any such thing to any of His prophets. In so doing, they add to God’s book what does not belong to it. Again, the context suggests that al-Tabari understands these additions as oral, not textual ones. When these rabbis twist their tongues, they distort the real meaning of the words into something objectionable, scorning Muhammad and his religion.

Al-Tabari explicitly states what he understands by distorting the word of God: changing its meaning and interpretation, deliberately bending its original meaning to something else. (p. 229)

There is no suggestion in al-Tabari’s Tafsir that the Torah was lost or perished at some point in history. In his Annales, however, the author does state that it was burned and lost, but that Ezra miraculously restored it:

When [the Israelites] returned to Palestine, they had no divine scripture, for the Torah had been seized and burned, and it perished. Ezra, one of the captives in Babylon who returned to Palestine, spent day and night grieving over it, in solitude. While he was in waterless valleys and in the wilderness, grieving over the Torah and weeping, lo and behold, a man approached him as he sat, and [the man] said, "O Ezra, what grieves you?" Ezra said, "I grieve over God’s scripture and covenant which was among us, but our transgressions and the Lord’s wrath against us came to such a pass that He made our enemy prevail. They slew our men, and destroyed our country and burned our divine book, without which our worldly existence and our life to come has no meaning. What shall I weep over if not this?" The man said, "Would you like it to be returned to you?" Ezra asked, "Is that possible?" "Yes," the man replied. "Go back, fast, cleanse yourself, and cleanse you garments. Then be at this place tomorrow."

Ezra went back, cleansed himself and his garments, and went to the appointed place. He sat there, and the man came carrying a vessel filled with water - he was an angel sent by God - and gave Ezra to drink from that vessel. The Torah then presented itself in Ezra’s consciousness. Ezra returned to the Children of Israel and set down the Torah for them, so that they might know what it permits and what it prohibits, its patterns, precepts and statutes. They loved it as they had never loved anything before. The Torah was established among them, and with it their cause fared well. Then he died. In the course of time, the Israelites considered Ezra to be the son of God. God again sent them a prophet, as He did in the past, to direct and teach them, and to command them to follow the Torah. (pp. 230-231)


... It would seem that al-Baqillani simply assumed it to be authentic, albeit abrogated ...

Apparently al-Baqillani believed that the words of Moses were still extant in their Hebrew original, and could serve as the touchstone with which to compare the statements made by the Jews. The term as used by him stands for inadvertent errors made in the process of translation, rather than deliberate alterations effected in the text of the Torah. (pp. 234, 235)


According to al-Ma‘sudi’s account of the Torah - which echoes that of al-Ya‘qubi - the text of the Torah was not corrupted; no new laws were introduced; the old ones were just reinstated ...

... The one time he addresses the issue of tahrif – in the Muruj - it is clear that he accuses the Jews of distorting the sense of the Torah, not the text ...

So far, we have only encountered authors who subscribed to the view that the misrepresentation of the Torah referred to in the Koran merely concerns the meaning of the Torah and not its text. As may be concluded from al-Tabari’s Tafsir, however, the opposite view also had its partisans. With al-Maqdisi we turn to an authority who had his misgivings about the authenticity of the text. (p. 232; underlined emphasis ours)

Adang concludes:

... It was found that the MAJORITY of our authors subscribe to a mild interpretation of the Koranic allegation of large-scale tampering with the Torah by the Jews (tahrif); according to this interpretation, only the sense of the biblical text had been changed while the text itself remained intact. Only al-Maqdisi and Ibn Hazm believed that the text had suffered distortion. The person held responsible by Ibn Hazm for corruption of the Torah was Ezra the scribe, who was generally put in a very positive light by Hazm’s predecessors. Apart from al-Tabari, the authors who held to a moderate view of tahrif felt justified in using the Bible as a historical source and for apologetical purposes. (p. 251; underlined and capital emphasis ours)

Thomas F. Michel supports the conclusions of Camilla Adang. In his English translation of Shaik-ul-Islam, Ibn Taymiyya’s response to Christians, Michel writes:

The term tahrif finds its origin in the Quran. In its verbal form it indicates an accusation hurled four times (4:46; 5:13; 5:41; 2:75) against Jewish leaders and carries the meaning that they quote their Scriptures wrongly out of context. On this basis a distinction was made early in the polemical tradition between tahrif al-lafz and tahrif al-ma‘na, the first referring to actual textual distortion and corruption, the second referring to the false and distorted interpretation of basically sound texts.

The early Muslim polemicists, such as ‘Ali al-Tabari, the Zaydi al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim, and Al-Hasan ibn Ayyub, applied the concept of tahrif al-ma‘na to the Christian as well as Jewish Scriptures. The later polemicists of the Ash‘arite school such as AL-BAQILLANI, AL-GHAZALI, and FAKR AL-DIN AL-RAZI, approached the Bible AS BASICALLY SOUND IN ITS TEXT but misinterpreted by Christians and Jews.

Ibn Hazm in his Al-Fisal fi al-Milal wal-Ahwa wal-Nihal, carefully built a case for the verbal corruption of the biblical text. According to Ibn Hazm, the Bible is not a message of God which contains some erroneous passages and words, but is of the status of an anti-Scripture, "an accursed book," the product of satanic inspiration. His conclusion marked A DEPARTURE FROM THE PREVAILING OPINION BEFORE HIS TIME and was followed by subsequent writers only with careful qualifications. Although the majority of later polemicists rejected Ibn Hazm’s conclusions as extreme, by the strength of his argumentation he influenced all subsequent polemical literature. The question of tahrif of scripture was one that no polemicist - Christian, Muslim, or Jewish - could leave untreated. (Michel, A Muslim Theologian’s Response to Christianity [Caravan Books; Delmar, NY, second printing 1999], pp. 89-90; bold and capital emphasis ours)


The previous quotes provide additional evidence that the Muslim assertion regarding the textual corruption of the Holy Bible finds little support from the writings of the first Muslims. It is rather evident that the majority of the first Muslim polemicists (if not all of them) believed that the text of the previous scriptures, at least in the case of the Hebrew Bible, remained intact.

The obvious reason why some Muslims of the past such as Ibn Hazm (and many today) argued that the Scriptures have been corrupted is that the message of the Holy Bible is directly opposed to the claims of the Quran. In other words, the Holy Bible and the Quran contradict each other on key, fundamental issues showing that both cannot be correct. They may both be wrong, but they can’t both be from the same God. Hence, the dilemma for the Muslim is quite apparent since to accept the Holy Bible as the preserved Word of God is to reject both the Quran and Muhammad. But to attack the Holy Bible is to discredit the Quran and the earliest Muslim sources which confirm the authority, availability, and authenticity of the previous scriptures.

Praise be to the risen Lord and immortal Savior Jesus Christ, as Christians we are not in this kind of dilemma.

We would like to invite the Muslims to reject the Quran and accept the only true inspired word of God, the Holy Bible, and embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Apart from this there is simply no other hope.

"You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life." John 5:39-40 NET Bible

"About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Acts 10:43 NET


[1] For a glimpse of just how solid the Islamic evidence is concerning the first Muslims believing that the Holy Bible is the preserved word of God, we welcome our readers to listen to a debate between Sam Shamoun and Nadir Ahmed on this topic which took place on Paltalk (http://www.islamiccenterofpeoria.org/debates.html).

[2] Interestingly, we found this book by skimming through the recommended books section of Muslim Robert Squires’ web site (which is temporarily off line)!

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